Buy a Sword!
The following question was received recently from one of our readers.
Would you discuss Luke 22:36—“[L]et him sell his cloak and buy a sword”? Some claim this passage is in conflict with Matthew 5:39, which prohibits a disciple of Christ from exercising physical retaliation, while others allege that Luke’s statement authorizes the Christian’s use of carnal weapons in defense of the cause of Christ.
Several observations regarding this matter are in order. First, one cannot take one passage that appears to contain a difficulty and array it against an almost encyclopedic collection of information that leads to an opposite conclusion. That is not a legitimate approach to biblical interpretation and it reveals more about those who argue in this vein than is complimentary to them.
It is rather analogous to the procedure of the skeptic who ignores the vast conglomerate of data that argue for the unity of the Bible (hence its divine origin) by the appeal to a single text that superficially appears to imply a contradiction. It also is similar to the Protestant who disregards all the texts that require immersion in water as an act of faith in obtaining the remission of sins, and focusing only on such passages as mention “faith” as a condition of salvation.
Second, the immediate context (Luke 22:35-38) pertains to the instructions concerning how the disciples would be treated as they would embark upon their dangerous mission of proclaiming his gospel. They were to go forth trusting in God to care for them. The Lord reminds them of the providential care that surrounded them in their previous evangelistic labors. As they initially went forth, were they abundantly provisioned? No. God took care of them day by day. Did they lack anything? They conceded that they did not.
Christ then quoted from Isaiah 53 (v. 12), where the prophet foretold that he, Christ himself, would be “reckoned with transgressors,” i.e., treated as a common sinner. The larger context of Isaiah 53 reveals that in implementing Heaven’s gracious plan of redemption, the lamb of God would do “no violence” (v. 9). His example in dealing with hostility was to be their model.
Third, when the authorities came to arrest Jesus, Peter attempted to defend his Master with his sword, and the Savior sternly rebuked his apostle for the effort (Matthew 26:51-52).
Fourth, with reference to Luke 22:36, I introduce the testimony of the late William Arndt, professor of New Testament exegesis and hermeneutics at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Incidentally, he was one of the esteemed editors of the world famous Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, in collaboration with Gingrich and Danker. In his book, Does The Bible Contradict Itself?, he wrote regarding Luke 22:36:
It is a warning to the disciples that troublous times, days of suffering and persecution, are coming for them and that they will have to arm themselves to withstand the onslaughts that are impending. The connection makes it clear that our Lord is not speaking of swords of iron or steel in this admonition. The disciples thought that He was referring to such physical weapons, and they said, v. 38: “Lord, here are two swords.” Jesus, seeing that they are still very dull in their understanding of the spiritual teaching He has been giving them, says: “It is enough.” He does not pursue the instruction any further, leaving it to the Holy Spirit to open up the full meaning of this matter to them later on. To put it briefly, the words of Jesus, Luke 22:36, are a figurative way of saying: Perilous times are coming; prepare for them. The swords He has in mind are the spiritual weapons of strong faith, fervent love of the Savior, fortitude, patience, and hope. This text, then, treats an altogether different subject from the one touched on in Matt. 5:39, and a collision of the two passages is out of the question (1955, 147-148).
It is a regrettable circumstance that far too many Christian people have their minds made up on a variety of biblical themes before ever carefully studying the matter. Such individuals are easily disposed to sweep under the carpet much evidence pertaining to a subject, and then almost frantically search for a single text that will justify them in what they already want to believe. This is a common though sad situation.
Scripture references: Luke 22:36; Matthew 5:39; Luke 22:35-38; Isaiah 53; Matthew 26:51-52
- Arndt, William. 1955. Does the Bible Contradict Itself? St. Louis, MO: Concordia.